The Hullahoo Bar is crammed with patrons at the counter. Ted, Frank and their regular raucous friends crowd around the half-circle, arguing testily.
“Yes,” Ted says. “I am writing a new book titled ‘Killing Deep Throat’. I’m fed up with this DC bureaucracy boiling up all this crap. I’m going to drain that swamp with the successful Killing Libido Pill and write how we did it.”
“You mean if you suck out all the libido from the system you actually will stop it from regurgitating hatred, obstruction, resistance and fake news?” Frank roared, laughing.
“Exactly,” Ted confirms. “You saw the results of my KLP book: the anti-viagra virus. Much better than that stuff about aging young. Tell me, you guys, don’t you feel relieved after taking the KLP, that you don’t have that urge anymore to go after women ?”
“I give you that,” Bert says. “But how do you apply that to killing ‘Deep Throat’?”
“I have researched it in-depth,” Ted explains. “Deep-throat people are the ones that constitute the megacenter of the swamp. They are all sexually frustrated by ED, inability to perform in bed or having to fake it, and jealous of men that are successful with women or women successful with men. Just look at the mainstream media anchors, always a man and a woman, each competing for being the most obnoxious gofer on the screen. If the guy takes the KLP, he instantly loses his drive to be more obnoxious than the female anchor.”
“But then you’d be left with those pesky females and nothing would change,” Bert says.
“The female anchor will lose her nerve because she’d feel she is no longer pursued. That frustrates her natural instincts. Look at our female friends here, how annoyed and inoperative they are because they get no free beers or Martinis anymore. True, Angie?”
“Don’t put me on the spot, Ted KLP,” Angie retorts. “All that gallantry you guys were displaying was only with one purpose in mind and that’s bedding me or her.”
“How would you impose that KLP on anchors?” Henry of The Washington Post asks.
“By mixing it in their coffee machines,” Ted says. “We have an army of paid KLP operators that serve these studios, government and newspaper offices. You don’t drink coffee? No problem, they mix it in the watercoolers. Just watch your offices at the Post, Henry. Don’t feel that horny anymore? You may already have been swallowing KLP.”
“And who pays for that?” Cindy asks, always on the money.
“The National Health Institute,” Ted says. “They have a stake in the matter because the growing political divide in the US is ruining the country’s national health and sharply increasing Medicaid and Medicare costs for psychiatrical care and domestic disputes. We’re expanding into the FBI, the Justice Department, even the Defense Department and the catacombs of the White House. You will soon hear that that FBI lover couple will disband because that stork guy has been klpeed and the whole case will come tumbling down.”
“This is pure subversion of democracy,” Henry says. “I’ll expose you and your group as underminers of the Me 2 movement, the new platform of the Democrat party.”
“What nonsense,” Ted balks. “You mean I undercut Me 2 if I KLpee the guys they’re fighting, the Weismans, Roses, Lauers and Cosbys? You mean that to remain relevant M2 needs these guys back into the limelight somewhere so that they can continue barking at them?”
“Precisely,” Henry says. “Your group must emanate from the right that opposes sinful movements. Me 2 welcomes freedom.”
“What has that got to do with Killing Deep Throat, Ted?” asks Frank.
“I’m positive that all this political wrangling is sex-related,” Ted says. “Why is the special prosecutor so interested in that playboy girl instead of that silly Russian collusion? I’m sure that if we klpee him he and his case would disintegrate.”
Henry slammed his fist on the counter. “I oppose that because it would destroy all the media fun.”
“You see?” Alicia yelps across the counter. “You perverts only like to write about porn to sell your paper and you don’t care a fig about making America great again.”
“Hah!” Henry yells back. “We write it because you want to read it, and if we wrote only about the low unemployment rate you wouldn’t buy the paper.”
Ted scoffs. “Watch your Keurig coffeemaker, Henry. Soon you’ll be only interested in writing about the unemployment rate.”
Ted and Frank sit at the counter of their regular Hullahoo bar for their weekly chat, and sitting not far from them we are overhearing their babble. It’s a busy night with many patrons sharing their corner.
“Do you have skeletons in your closet?” asks Ted, referring to a politician whose election failed after sex revelations surfaced in the media.
“Oh man!” Frank responds with a sigh. “I wouldn’t dare open it for fear they’d all tumble out with a rattling cabal. And you?”
“Mine are in the garden shed,” Ted confesses. “Too many to count. At night they haunt me, making me scream, yelling ‘why was I so stupid!’ Then Ann asks, ‘Are you all right?’ What am I supposed to say? If I told her, she’d probably run away.”
“But why do only men have skeletons in their closets?” Bert wonders, sitting next to Ted. “Women are never accused of hiding them.”
“Women use closets to store clothes, Bert,” Frank says. “You of all people who live with one should know. There ain’t any room for skeletons.”
“It’s because you guys are the perverts,” joins in Alicia, sitting next to Frank. “It’s us the weaker sex that always gets molested.”
“I know a few of you who collaborated quite eagerly in the molestation,” Frank shoots back.
“But you must’ve started it,” Alicia says. “Passing by in the office and glimpsing invitingly? Asking to have a coffee together, then lunch and then dinner, and then the nightclub with dancing cheek to cheek and more? And then the skeleton gets baked.”
“You could’ve said ‘No’ but instead you went along,” Frank says, grimacing. “Our skeletons are shared with your permissive weaker sex, but it’s always us who get burned.”
“I didn’t speak of myself, just the experiences of my girlfriends,” Alicia says, looking away.
“So you don’t have skeletons, only your girlfriends do?” asks Ted, pressing her. “Your type’s always the holy Mary.”
“They’re all hypocrites,” Bert shouted, gulping his beer. “Them so-called journalists who uncover these skeletons have tons of them in their own closets. He who’s without sin should cast the first stone. Remember Bible class?”
“If you remember, Alicia, the adulterer in that story was a woman.” Frank sneers.
“That was then and this is now,” Cathy buts in, sitting next to Bert. “Sad enough it took two thousand years for the roles to turn around.”
“But a man still needs a woman to make a skeleton,” Bert argues. “So you guys must have skeletons, too. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Not so, Mister Bert!” Cathy hollers. “You heard about that scumball of a sports coach that molested all those trusting young gymnasts against their will?”
“And that ugly guy in Hollywood who forced himself on actresses if they wanted a job?” Alicia adds.
“And what about that lewd role model of all husbands and fathers, Bill Cosby?” yells Cindy from the far end of Ted’s.
Sudden silence reigns at the counter. All males pull shameful faces feeling they truly belong to a bunch of public perverts. In an effort to turn the conversation back to the usual uplifting clatter, Ted asks Frank, “Can you share any skeleton you’re hiding?”
Frank’s face clears up. “So glad you asked. There’s one I want to get rid of. I took it out from the shed at Halloween but forgot it had an eye-operated talker. Each time trick-or-treat kids passed by, it squeaked ‘Come in and meet Frank Womanizer.’ The whole neighborhood came out, especially moms, who told their daughters to stay away from me! Colleagues gave it to me as an office award. I became the neighborhood villain. It ruined my chances of running for State Office.’
“You see,” Alicia says. “You ain’t any better than the rest of them. You better pay me a drink to make good.”
“Bert, any skeletons you want to share?” Frank asks, ignoring Alicia’s demand because he’d taken his killing libido pill.
Bert shifts on his stool, uncomfortable he’s put on the spot. “Mine are only financial. I claim the fifth.”
“Ted, would you volunteer?” Frank asks.
“The most embarrassing thing that got me fired. I had a bad dinner the night before and went with awful tummy cramps to the office. I was asked to see the boss and as he hadn’t returned yet from a meeting had to wait for him in his office when it flew out. I didn’t know it would be that bad. I almost fainted myself. I thought of running away but he suddenly came in, got furious, threw all the windows open, and shouted me out. It took me two years before I got hired somewhere else as everybody kept gossiping about it.”
Laughter all around. “But that’s not a skeleton that interests the media,” Henry says, sitting next to Alicia. He’s from The Washington Post, so he knows. “It must be juicy, not stinky.”
“Come on, Henry,” Bert says. “Why are male skeletons always female? Because you guys make it so? Skeletons do not wear their sex, so how can you see what’s what? Dirt diggers you are!”
“Hey, Bert, I must write to earn my bread and butter, man! You do it with financial crookery. I’ll find out and leak it to the Special Prosecutor.”
“Sure,” Bert retorts. “From sources at a bar.”
Then a busty skeleton enters the bar door and rattles to the counter. “Hi, I’m Stormy Waters and am for hire.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” Henry asks.
Sitting cramped in my window seat, I wondered why the moon had this mocking smile on his face. My heliphone didn’t ring. Maybe because of secret regulations between Heaven and air traffic control? I still didn’t know the whereabouts of Anita’s husband’s prison. Stumbling through customs on arrival at dawn, a voice told me that the cab driver would know. “Oslo fengsel,” he confirmed. After going through town, he turned into a long driveway lined by leafless trees and snow-covered grounds, ending at a red-stone somber building. “You wait,” I said and went in. The guards watched me, quizzically. I was dressed as a priest, my faith-inspiring white collar shining trustingly behind the white scarf around my neck. I didn’t speak a word of Norwegian but had many times mumbled Anita’s husband’s name, Wilhelm Lassen, that bloody Viking who’d trounced me with Anita.
I sat in the bare visiting room when Wilhelm Lassen entered, took the only other seat, his face one question mark. I gazed at his hands. As I’d suspected, he didn’t wear rings in prison. I hoped he spoke a bit of English.
“My name’s Father John,” I said. “I’m bringing you a final word from Anita.”
The man’s face grew grey, his lips tightened, his eyes squinted. “Anita is dead,” he said with a rolling accent. “I did not do nothing. She suffered shortage of breath. Who are you?”
“Her confessor when she lived with you in Geneva. She left this small package to hand you in case she’d die before you.” I pulled a blue jewelry box from my pocket and handed it to him. In it was a golden ring I’d dipped with a tweezer into a small base with liquid cyanide in the airplane toilet a short while before landing. A friend at a chemical factory had given me the deadly stuff, believing I’d use it to kill persistent mice in my basement. If Wilhelm would slide the ring on his finger, his skin would absorb the cyanide and death would follow soon.
Wilhelm opened the box and stared at it. “My wedding ring?” he asked. “I thought I’d lost it. Rar,” (‘strange’) he muttered. Then he shifted it onto his ring finger, looking sad.
The guard came in and warned me my time was up. I stood, said farewell to Wilhelm, and left as fast as I could. The cab driver took me rapidly to the airport, and I grabbed the first flight out to Amsterdam to erase my footsteps, hopefully having left pandemonium at the Oslo fensel. In Amsterdam, I got the last seat in a crowded United flight to Washington, mission accomplished, I reckoned.
Back home at night, the heliphone rang. It was Anita.
“Thank you, Johnnyboy. He’s nicely burning in Hell, screaming his lungs out.”
“But won’t I be punished?”
“No, you’ll be rewarded in Heaven when you get here in a while. Can’t wait.” Her heavenly voice drifted away.
“Crime pays in the afterlife,” I whispered and fell asleep, uncomfortable about Anita’s eagerness. Wilhelm’s death was reported as a suicide.
Once you reach a certain age the heliphone starts ringing. It always does around or a while after midnight. Nowadays, it rings more often. Past loves are calling in from the afterlife. The other night it was Amalia.
“I didn’ t see you at my funeral. Why didn’t you come? Why not bring me any flowers? After all, we spent some good times together.”
“Oh, dearest Amalia! Your voice sounds just like before. Australia was a bit far for me. Where are you now?”
“Much farther than Australia. You remember that day in the dunes?”
“Wonderful. I often dream of it.”
“So how come you didn’t marry me?”
“Blame it on my immaturity. I didn’t realize how good you would’ve been for me.”
“That figures; you were proposing all over the place after you left me. Are you any happier now?”
“It would’ve been nicer to share our lives together. If I’d had more than one life, I would’ve done it.”
“I’ll keep a seat reserved for you here then. Till soon.”
The heliphone broke off. That “soon” gave me the shivers. I got up and made myself a stiff Martini. What did she know?
Earlier this week, I got another call, from Irene.
“Nobody came to my funeral. Only Cindy, you remember, our bridesmaid, and that bloody husband of mine who’d left me by myself most of the time. Why did you divorce me? “
“Probably for the same reason your second husband left you alone.”
“We had so much fun together, don’t you remember that sofa?”
“I do, delightful, but you embezzled my money.”
“Come on. All that paper’s just monopoly money. You can’t take it over here.”
“What’s over here?”
“The purgatory. I don’t know why they put me here. It’s always cold. I spent time enough in jail.”
“Terrible. It surprised me you got yourself married again.”
“I got him the same way I got you.”
“By pretending he’d made me pregnant.”
“Yeah, I remember that. I think the purgatory is fine for you.”
The line broke off. I shivered again and took another Lorazepam. Was I lucky I got rid of her. She took all my money and still keeps calling me. That heliphone is a nightmare.
Mid-week wasn’t any better. It was Marilou, the fat girl from Switzerland, who I heard via the grapephone had suddenly passed away.
“I got heart trouble because I was overweight.”
“I’m so sorry, Marilou. I guess you’ve got plenty to eat now and can’t die anymore.”
“I still hate you. You only made love to me in the Alps because you got high rubbing my big boobs. You were a pervert.”
“I remember your telling me that. I broke my back lifting you up all the time because you couldn’t stay up on your skis.”
“I offered you my millions of Swiss Francs, but you only wobbled in between my boobs, said ‘Ahhh,’ and left me.”
“You told me the Swiss tycoon you married did it for you boobs too.”
“He was supposed to go before me. Now he’s got all my money and married an ultra slim pin-up from Vanity Fair.”
“Are you calling him too?”
“His phone is off the hook. I hate Vanity Fair.”
The heliphone died away. Marilou was one of those sad moments in life you want to forget but keep being reminded of. How did she get my number?
Last night was the worst ever. It was Anita, my biggest regret in love life.
“I wish I’d married you.”
“A bit late to tell me that now. What happened?”
“My husband murdered me.”
“Oh no! Why?”
“Because I kept dreaming aloud at night mentioning your name, saying that I loved you.”
“I hope they put him on death row.”
“Death row does not exist in my country. But hell does here.”
“Awful. You think I could do anything?”
“Go to his prison and poison him. I want him in hell right now where they’ll knife him with red-burning forks every second.”
“But they’d catch me and put me in prison as well.”
“Don’t worry. I’m told we have our ways up here and I’ll protect you.”
“But I won’t get you back, Anita. What’s the point?”
“You’ll be here soon enough, darling, and we’ll live happily ever after.”
That was enough to whip me into a frenzy and I swallowed two Lorazepams, but nonetheless, I stayed awake all night, shaking.
I’m on my way to Oslo now with a dose of cyanide wrapped in foil paper and my heliphone in my pocket to get word where that prison is. Pray for my soul.
Ever invited to lunch to celebrate the tenth birthday of your grandson? Well, we were. So, Grandma and Grandpa trot to the restaurant. Grandson Preston John (PJ for short) is the ‘All-American boy’ who likes to play foot, basket, and baseball (the sports his father likes). He’s actually quite good at it (his Grandpa being a Dutchman likes soccer better and has never been able to understand American football with those harnessed bulky guys tumbling over each other all the time). PJ’s eight-year-old sister Sadie likes soccer too, even makes goals, but is more into ballet dancing. PJ is reportedly good at math but doesn’t like reading books (his dad doesn’t either), this to this writing Grandpa’s chagrin. But I am digressing.
Grandpa, having been invited, ordered some kind of overpriced steak salade with French fries, a meal on the menu that reminded him of his old Brussels’ times where the weather is always gray too. Had he known he had to pay the bill even though invited, he would have ordered just a plain chicken soup. Anyway, toward the end of the chatty lunch, Grandma signals with her handy fingers (so that everybody sees it) Grandpa has to pay the bill. Up he goes, but on his way to the cashier (his daughter – ‘Aunty Sammie’- says she checked it for correctness – how nice these kids are), he is ‘accosted’ by PJ:
In so many words PJ says, “You must give twenty percent.”
“Give twenty percent? What for? Who says?”
“Is he paying the bill, then?” Grandpa asks.
“No, you pay.”
“You know what that means, give twenty percent?”
“A tip for the waiter. But why should I give the waiter money? The bill is already far too high.”
“Daddie likes him.”
“Oh, yeah? So why doesn’t he pay the waiter himself? You know how much that is, twenty percent?”
“How much is twenty percent of say one hundred?”
PJ shifts his feet. No answer.
“I heard you were good at math.”
“How many twenties go into one hundred?”
“Good! So how much then is twenty percent of one hundred?”
“OK, tell your dad I give five dollars tip.”
PJ looks as if he’s being fleeced. He had apparently not learned yet what ‘giving twenty percent’ meant.
“Five times twenty is one hundred, no?” PJ asks, showing doubts.
“Right, you know your tables! So, if five twenties make one hundred, your dad wants to give one of the five twenties to the waiter?”
“Yeah…”PJ says, not sure.
“Let’s go to the cashier. Suzy, this invoice is five twenties, but my grandson PJ wants to give one twenty to the waiter. Is that OK?”
Suzy looks at PJ, who smiles his seductive smile, his eyes shining.
“But PJ, these five twenties are for me. Emilio didn’t cook the meal, he only took it to you guys.”
“My daddie says give twenty percent…”
“Oh, I see, PJ, I’ll add another twenty to the bill to give Emilio his gift, OK?”
PJ nods, not sure if he fully grasps Suzy’s math. Grandpa thinks he sees an educational opportunity.
“PJ,” Grandpa lectures, “percent means per hundred. You see this penny? In Holland, we call it a cent. How many pennies or cents go into a dollar?”
“Hundred!” says PJ, with enthusiasm.
Suzy enters the discussion. She’s a teacher in addition to her fly-by-night waitress job. “So one percent of a dollar is what?”
“A penny!” cries PJ.
“So what is twenty percent of one hundred dollars?”
PJ wonders, his eyes exploring the ceiling. Suzy takes a piece of paper and draws a fraction of 20 dollars divided by 100 hundred dollars multiplied by one hundred dollars. “How much is that?”
“Twenty,” PJ shouts. He knows fractions from class!
“So, what does it mean give twenty percent of this 0ne-hundred dollar bill to Emilio? It means I have to add another twenty dollars to the bill to tip Emilio for his service, not give away one of my twenties. Got it?”
PJ returns to his dad. “Grandpa doesn’t want to give twenty percent. He says you pay it yourself.” He treasures the twenty dollar note Grandma gave him in a small envelope. “Your birthday gift.” The tip seems to click. His dad smiles and tells him to hug Grandpa to thank him for the birthday lunch and he does. How sweet. Then Emilio arrives with a piece of cake and a burning candle, which PJ blows out (or maybe his sister Sadie does, as she sits across, jealous).
Emilio comes by on the way out and high-fives PJ’s dad. “Mucho gracias, Senor!” PJ high-fives him too.
Grandpa doesn’t even get a smile.